Under Pressure: Patrick Marleau

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This post is part of Maple Leafs Day on PHT…

The youth movement in Toronto took an interesting twist this summer, with the signing of long-time Sharks forward Patrick Marleau. 

The deal for the 37-year-old forward? Three years with an annual average value of $6.25 million and a no-movement clause, per CapFriendly. That makes Marleau the Maple Leafs’ highest paid player heading into next season.

While Marleau is getting older — he celebrates his 38th birthday in September, when training camp rolls around — he was still productive during his latter years in San Jose, scoring 27 goals last season. He also played the full 82-game regular season schedule.

His point production isn’t anywhere close to his peak of 80-plus points on two occasions with the Sharks, but he’s still been able to score at an impressive rate, especially given his age.

Now, the question becomes: Can he do that over these next three years on a new team, as he continues to get older, the younger players around him enter their prime years and, perhaps most pressing of all, the game gets quicker?

On the day Marleau signed, Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock defended the decision, lauding Marleau’s skating ability and veteran experience against the opposition’s best players.

There is a history between coach and player dating back to the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics with the gold-medal winning Canadian team, so it’s clear Babcock and the organization believe Marleau still has something to offer for what has become a young, skilled and exciting team in the Eastern Conference.

Toronto’s rebuild has accelerated in just over a year. Having the opportunity to select Auston Matthews at No. 1 overall helps. With Matthews, and fellow dynamic rookies William Nylander and Mitch Marner up front, the Maple Leafs were able to make the playoffs in the East.

They pushed the Washington Capitals in a difficult first-round series, which means the expectations for this young core group in Toronto are likely to be greater in 2017-18. It wasn’t that long ago Babcock was predicting “pain” at the beginning of his tenure.

The Leafs also signed veteran forward Dominic Moore to a one-year deal and veteran defenseman Ron Hainsey to a two-year deal. The combined cap hit between them is $4 million, but they are moves that add more experienced players for a team that could be entering its window sooner than previously expected.

Marleau has had a great career, with 508 goals scored and 1,082 points in 1,493 career games, all with San Jose so far. But he’s not a rental. This isn’t the Maple Leafs adding an extra piece in early March to solidify an area of their roster for a run at the Stanley Cup three months later. It’s three years, big money, and a no-movement clause for a player pushing 40 while entering perhaps the most high-pressure hockey environment in the world.

He joins the Maple Leafs at a time when the club shows great potential for the next few years, courtesy the young talent throughout their lineup. It also means considerable pressure following a rebuild.

On a deal with less money or term, one could argue Marleau may be able to fly slightly under the radar.

But not at an average of more than $6 million per year. Not in Toronto.

“That’s what everybody wants. I think every team expects that out of themselves,” Marleau recently told Hockey Talk on Sirius XM.

“That is not going to be any different. Having played as long as I have and knowing the ups and downs of the season, you’ve got to learn from those. It’s all a challenge and it’s all an opportunity. I think that with this group of guys I’m extremely excited about making that long playoff run.”